The skinny man put the last of the contraband in the box, and gave one last kick to Airtime.
“I don’t want to hear a squeak out of any of you,” he said. “Or you’ll end up like your friend here.”
He took the box and slammed the door closed behind him. There was the sound of a padlock clicking shut.
Airtime was curled up in a ball, making muffled sounds. The other three went to his side, and Song kneeled and put a comforting hand on him.
“Airtime?” she asked, gently rolling him over.
His cheek was bruised and puffing up. But strangely he had a huge smile on his face.
“It worked!” he said. “I got it!”
“Got what?” asked Song.
Airtime uncurled himself, revealing something metallic.
“I saw it on the shelf,” he said. “I knew I had to do something. I knew I wouldn’t get another chance.”
Song stared at it, amazed.
“It’s the camera!” she said. “It’s the camera from my work!”
“And here it is,” said Airtime, handing it too her. “Now do you believe me when I say I’m sorry?”
“No, I’m sorry,” said Song, hugging him.
“It’s my bad,” said Sbu. “All of you were right about my uncle, and I didn’t listen. I’m so sorry I got you into this, K8.”
Sbu took K8’s hand. She squeezed it back.
“What are you saying sorry to her for?” said Airtime. “We’re here too! Why aren’t you apologising to us?”
Neither K8 nor Sbu seemed to hear Airtime. They were wrapped up in their own world.
“It’s all right,” said K8. “You didn’t know.”
“I need you to know that my uncle… he’s not me,” said Sbu.
“Why are you two acting so strange!” said Airtime “Are you deaf? I’m talking here!”
Song watched K8 and Sbu with a small smile on her face.
“Airtime,” she said. “Shh.”
“Shh? Why? What’s going on? Why are you two-?”
Airtime suddenly got it. “You two! You’re an item! You’re boyfriend and girlfriend! You’re seeing each other! You’re jolling! You’re…” he searched for more words, “…you’re all hooked up?!”
“For how long?” asked Song.
“A few weeks,” said K8.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” said Airtime. “Why are you keeping secrets?”
“Sorry,” said K8. “We were going to tell you.”
“We wanted to be sure first,” said Sbu.
“We were waiting for the right time,” said K8.
“So you waited until we were all locked up in a storeroom?” said Airtime. “I’m insulted. We’re supposed to be tight. You should holla about these things. I’d be storming out of here if it wasn’t for the lock on the door!”
There was the sound of the truck starting outside.
“How long until they get back?” asked K8.
“I don’t know,” said Sbu. He pulled on the bars on the window, but they were solid. Airtime came to the window next to him.
“If only I could squeeze through the bars, like that kid I saw,” he said. He pushed his head against the bars and sniffed the air outside. “I can smell freedom.”
“That’s not freedom,” said Song, smelling the air. “That’s smoke.”
It was true. The smell was undeniable.
“It’s from the braai,” said Airtime.
“I don’t think so,” said K8. “Look.”
Smoke was pouring in under the door. A lot of smoke.
“I kicked over the braai,” said Sbu. “I kicked it over onto long grass. It was under an open window.”
There was a crackling, roaring noise on the other side of the door. They were locked in the house, and it was on fire.
Image: Coda, CC-BY-NC-SA
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you know what to do if your house catches fire?